How to Eat in Arequipa: Picanterías, Chicha, and Tradition

Introducing the Food in Arequipa

Picanteros donning traditional hats during Festival de la Chicha
Picanteros donning traditional hats during Festival de la Chicha
Arequipa has so many traditions of its own, including a rich food heritage, that locals joke that it is its own country. Don’t worry; you can still enjoy many Peruvian favorites such as Lomo Saltado and Ají de Gallina. However, there are many traditional dishes that you’ll only find in Arequipa. And there are others like rocoto relleno and adobo that can be found in other parts of Peru but are prepared differently in Arequipa. The food in Arequipa is one of its main attractions, one that should not be missed.
Because picanterías play such a large role in Arequipa’s food scene, this guide will emphasize picanterías as a good way to learn about the traditional food of this region. Arequipa also offers a good selection of novo-andean restaurants and a mixture of pollerias, cevicherias, sangucherias, and chifas restaurants that you’d expect in a Peruvian city of this size. I will summarize these offerings at the end of the guide.
I originally planned to stay in Arequipa for only four days but ended up staying more than a month for the food.  I tried to make every meal count and  sampled my way through as much of Arequipa’s  large repertoire of traditional dishes as possible. In addition, I interviewed more than two dozen chefs, picanteros, bartenders, and locals to understand the traditions and history surrounding the food

Top Food Experiences in Arequipa

Sampling new food in Arequipa with friends
Sampling new food in Arequipa with friends

A few suggestions for ways to enjoy the food in Arequipa:

  1. Check a out a food festival. In the month I was in Arequipa (August), I sampled food at four different festivals. Many of them are in Plaza de Armas and other central locations so you might just be lucky and run into one. Food is part of pretty much every celebration in the city. In a parade for the city’s birthday, I saw a float dedicated to Rocoto Relleno (stuffed pepper).
  2. Get a taste of the local picantería scene. One of the things I love of Arequipa’s food scene is that a lot of locals eat out too, and it’s easy to eat where the locals do since the hygiene standards at picanterías tend to be high.
  3. If you’re in Arequipa at the right time, you must try the camarones. Chupe de Camarones is the most popular dish that celebrates Camarones, but you can also try Coctel de Camarones and Causa with Camarones. Chefs in Arequipa are always coming up with new ways to feature this star ingredient.
  4. Try something completely different. After sampling some traditional food, you should try some of Arequipa’s Novo-Andean food, fusion favorites, or a tourist favorite-meat grilled on volcanic stone at Zig Zag.
  5. Sip on a pisco cocktail. There are great Pisco bars in the city center and many restaurants also have creative cocktail menus. My favorite cocktails were ones that incorporate local ingredients such as the papaya or even the spicy rocoto pepper.
  6. Satisfy your sweet tooth by trying queso helado near the Mirador of Yanahuara, the alfajores at Antojito, or a French dessert from Casa Fior.

Key Ingredients 

Here are some ingredients that are unique to Arequipa and used throughout Arequipean cuisine:
Camorones being prepared for Chupes de Camarones at La Capitana
Camorones being prepared for Chupes de Camarones at La Capitana

Camarones are Arequipa’s culinary gold. ‘Camarones’ is sometimes translated as shrimp, but they are more similar to crawfish.  They are from the river and are in season from March to December.


Papayas Arequipeñas at San Camilo Market
Papayas Arequipeñas at San Camilo Market

Papayas in Arequipa are smaller, yellow, and have a distinct flavor and a flower-like aroma. They are primarily used in juices and desserts. They are generally too bitter to be eaten alone without sugar.


Rocotos at San Camilo Market
Rocotos at San Camilo Market

Rocoto, a ají pepper native to this region. The rocoto grown in this region is smaller, rounder, and has a spicy, slightly sweet flavor.  Rocoto is traditionally used to flavor many dishes and stars in Rocoto Relleno. Now, it has started becoming used in a variety of fusion dishes ranging from lasagna and cocktails.


Ají Panca, Arequipa's favorite pepper
Ají Panca, Arequipa’s favorite pepper

Ají Panca is the primary pepper used in traditional Arequipean food . It is dried and has a smoky flavor. It appears throughout traditional dishes. It is in the broth for all of the soups served daily in Arequipa’s picantería (except caldo blanco and other white soups) and gives Adobo its signature red color. It also flavors chupes, casseroles, stews, and noodle dishes.


Chicha de Jora at La Dorita
Chicha de Jora at La Dorita

Chicha de Jora is a regional drink but is also used to flavor soups and as an ingredient in marinades for meats.


Huacatay is a special herb (whose shape resembles another special herb) which is used throughout the cuisine to add an aromatic flavor. It is used to flavor soup and other dishes. It can be combined with oil and other herbs to make a pesto-like mixture.


The Red onion is known throughout Perú for being “fuerte” or strong. As I travelled throughout Perú, I saw many restaurants that imported red onions from the Arequipa region.


Market

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Fruit aisle at San Camilo Market

San Camilo Market is Arequipa’s largest market. Its offerings are similar to that of other large markets in Peru-juices, prepared food like ceviche, fruits, and fresh ingredients. However, it is well lit and exceptionally well-organized into neat rows. If you want to see the layout of market, go upstairs where you can see the whole market.

San Camilo Market is one of the best places in Peru to browse potatoes
San Camilo Market is one of the best places in Peru to browse potatoes

I recommend walking through the market along the aisle of fruit vendors especially if you’re squeamish and don’ t want to be exposed to the fully display of animal parts. As a bonus opportunity to learn more about Peruvian ingredients, the many type of potatoes at this market are very well-labeled.


What to Eat

Starters and Salads

Mote at La Capitana
Mote at La Capitana

Mote is boiled corn and is generally something to much on while waiting for food. The kernels are much larger than the corn you may be used to back home.


Abas at Tradición Arequipeña
Habas at Tradición Arequipeña

Habas are like broad beans or lima beans but slightly thicker. They are boiled and lightly salted are served as light snacks or piqueos.


Torreja at La Lucila
Torreja at La Lucila

Torrejas are fried dough fritters with cheese and vegetables like zucchini mixed in. They can be ordered as an appetizer but are often included in combination platters and Americanos.


Soltero at La Benita de Los Claustros
Soltero at La Benita de Los Claustros
Soltero, a classic Arequipan salad is made of fresh cheese, olives, fava beans, tomatoes, choclo (Andean corn with large kernels), and red onion. The salad also has contains the herb, Huacatay, which is used throughout Arequipan food and gives the salad a unique flavor. Soltero is one of the few staple salad dishes in a cuisine heavy on meat and potatoes.

The name for this classic Arequipian salad comes from the Spanish word for “bachelor.” The path in which the word became the name for this salad is convoluted and contradictory. What’s important is that the name stuck.


Ocopa at La Lucila
Ocopa at La Lucila
Ocopa is a classic salad made of baked potatoes, beans, onions, olives, lettuce, and a boiled egg. However, the defining element is the sauce made from mirasol peppers, onion, garlics, nuts, cheese, oil, and the herb, huacatay.

Free Escribano at Cau Cau

Escribano is a simple salad of sliced tomatoes, potatoes, and rocoto pepper with a little salt, pepper, vinegar, and oil. In Spanish, “escribano” means “notary”. This dish was eaten by notaries in picanterías as they were eaten and thus the dish was eventually named after the eater.


 Caldos del día

Chairo at La Dorita
Chairo at La Dorita
Arequipa takes the idea of soup of the day to a new level. Every day of the week has a traditional soup and picanterías all around the city serve the same soup everyday, giving the whole city a rhythm. Note: The soups for Sunday-Wednesday are consistent throughout the city; there’s a bit of variation in the soup served on the other days.
  • MondayChaque is a thick soup of crushed potatoes with intestines.
  • TuesdayChairo is beef broth with beef, lamb, broad means, dried meat, and chuño (dried potatoes)
  • Wednesday-Chochoca is a soup made with jerky, celery, leek, potato, and corn flour,
  • ThursdayMenestron is the Peruvian version of Italian minestrone. Peruvian ingredients such as corn, potatoes, peas, and casava has been incorporated into this fusion dish.
  • FridayChuño Molido (features ground dried potatoes with chicken and lima beans), Chupe de Viernes (fish, seafood, egg, milk, lima beans, and potatoes), or Chupe de Camarones.
  • Saturday-There’s also a couple of different offerings for Saturday-Puchero, a light soup with camote, yucca, potatoes, beef, chuño,  choclo, and rice or Cazuela, a meat and vegetable soup with a light broth.
  • Sunday-As its name suggests, Caldo Blanco is a soup made of of white ingredients: potatoes, chuño (dehydrated potatoes), onions, beans, and rice. It usually contains chicken, lamb, or both. Adobo is also served on Sundays (below).

Try ordering a caldo when you visit a picantería. I originally wanted to try them all, but I realized that it was a bit too ambitious!


Adobo at one Cayma's several Adobo restaurants
Adobo at one Cayma’s several Adobo restaurants

Adobo is a pork-flavored soup that is served only on Sunday. The exact recipe varies from place to place, but it generally is flavored with chicha de jora, rocoto, aji panca, garlic, onions, oregano, cumin, and other herbs and then simmered for hours. It served with the traditional triangular “tres puntas” bread and aji for seasoning to taste.

It is a common hangover remedy that starts being served in the wee hours of the morning. There’s an expression, “hasta el adobo,” that is exclaimed when going out, which means that the night is young and that we’ll go out until time for adobo (morning).

Fresh Tres Puntas Bread
Fresh Tres Puntas Bread

How to eat Adobo:  Adobo is best eaten with a large amount of bread. Some locals hit up their local bakeries before heading to their favorite adobo spot and buy a bag of bread to take with them. It gets competitive on Sunday morning with people trying to beat the rush at bakeries to get their share of bread before the supply runs out. 

You can ask for a “yapa,” ‘extra’ in Quechua, which is asking for a small refill on the soup. Many times, the restaurant will automatically offer a yapa.


Mains

Rocoto Relleno con Pastel de Papa is a natural pairing of a stuffed pepper and a layered potato casserole. They are never served alone and in a combination platter such as a double or triple, the two count as a single dish.
Rocoto Relleno at La Benita de Los Claustros
Rocoto Relleno at La Benita de Los Claustros
Rocoto Relleno is a pepper stuffed with chopped beef, olives, raisins, egg, and cheese. The Rocoto pepper, the pepper used in this dish, comes in green and red. Picanteros use a number of methods to remove some of the heat of the pepper, the simplest being boiling the pepper in water repeatedly. However, the peppers naturally vary in the amount of capsicum they have and the spiciness can vary from plate to plate.
Note: the Rocoto Relleno in Arequipa is quite different than the Rocoto Relleno in Cusco which is breaded and deep-fried.
Pastel de Papa at Sol de Mayo
Pastel de Papa at Sol de Mayo
Pastel de papa is a rich, layered potato cake made of a mixture of milk, egg, and melted cheese. It can be thought of as the Peruvian version of potatoes au gratin.

Chupe de Camarones at Sol de Mayo
Chupe de Camarones at Sol de Mayo
Chupe de Camarones is a decadent chowder featuring large camarones from the river. Camarones resemble crayfish and are served with the shells on inside the soup. The soup has milk base and usually has a cacophony of other ingredient including potatoes, corn cobs, lima beans, and eggs.
At fancier restaurants, the soup base is more refined and creamier. At more local picanterías, you can taste more stock from the shells of the shrimp. Both are great experiences.

Cuy Chactado at La Dorita
Cuy Chactado at La Dorita
Cuy Chactado is a special way of preparing guineau pig native to Arequipa. A whole guineau pig is pounded flat, breaded, and deep fried in hot oil. Traditionally, a stone is used to fully submerge the cuy in the oil, allowing the whole animal to be fried evenly.  After the guineau pig is golden on both sides, it is typically served on top of papas doradas (golden-fried potatoes).
Cuy Chactado is traditional made with a stone to keep the cuy submerged in oil, ensuring even frying
Cuy Chactado is traditional made with a stone to keep the cuy submerged in oil, ensuring even frying

Locro at La Benita de Los Claustros
Locro at La Benita de Los Claustros

Locro means completely different things in different parts of Peru. In Arequipa, Locro de Pecho is a classic meat and potato dish.

The “pecho,” the chest of the cow or brisket is braised until tender. Then, the meat is served on a hearty mashed potato base which is flavored with ají and other spices. Locro is best enjoyed hot before the potato sets and becomes dry.


Costillar at La Capitana
Costillar at La Capitana

Costillar is lamb ribs boiled, coated with a little ají panca and garlic, and then fried. The result when done right is a wonderful texture, crispy on the outside and a little chewy on the inside.


Sarzas at La Capitana
Sarzas at La Capitana

Sarzas tend to be one of the harder tastes to acquire for visitors. It a mixed salad consisting various cuts of boiled meats that including patitas (pork feet), stomach, and testicles mixed with vinegar, onions, and tomatoes. The strong vinegar flavor combined with the texture of the meat can make this dish off-putting for first-timers.

Sarzas can be prepared with a variety of cuts of meat
Sarzas can be prepared with a variety of cuts of meat

Malaya at Candela
Malaya at Candela

Malaya is a filet of the beef that is boiled and then fried. Malaya uses a special cut of beef which is the most fibrous part so it may be stringer than you’re accustomed to.


Cauche at Tradición Arequipeña
Cauche at Tradición Arequipeña

Cauche consists of melted Arequipian cheese and onions in a tomato based sauce. Cauche can be cheese (cauche de queso) alone or it can include camarones (cauche de camarones).

Other dishes

  • Pebre is a soup made with lamb, cecina, potatoes yuca, chuño, chickpea, pepper, garlic, and onion.
  • Pastel de Choclo is Arequipa’s version of corn bread. It is made from cornmeal and features chunks of chunks of Choclo. It can be savory or sweet and often straddles the line between savory and sweet.

Samplers

Doble, Triples, and Americano
Picanterías offer ample opportunity to sample their ample offerings with their different combination dishes.
A Doble-Rocoto Relleno, Pastel de Papa, and chicharron
A Doble-Rocoto Relleno, Pastel de Papa, and chicharron
Dobles include Chicharon (fried pork) with Rocoto Relleno and Pastel de papa.

A triple with soltero instead of sarzas (La Benita de Los Claustros)
A triple with soltero instead of sarzas (La Benita de Los Claustros)
Triples typically is a Doble with Sarzas added. Since this Sarzas are a bit hard for tourists to stomach, more touristic restaurants often swap the Sarzas for Soltero.

Almuerzo, the Spanish word for lunch is a combination of the caldo del día and an entree, from a list. Sometimes, the entree is the Americano, letting you try everything that a picantería offers that day. An ‘Almuerzo’ is similar to menú in that it lets you try a lot of food for not much money.


A sample Americano
A sample Americano
When ordering picantería food, an Americano is a good way to start. It’s a sampler plate that was created for visitors to try the local food and is on the menu at every picantería.

Legend has it that Americanos got their name when a traveller from North American (Americano in Spanish) visited Arequipa many years ago. He was a curious traveller and wanted to try everything so he order a little of every dish. Others liked the idea and ordered “what the Americano was getting”. It caught on and the dish eventually became known as the “Americano.”


Desserts

A large queso helado, after a full day of walking
A large queso helado, after a full day of walking

Queso Helado translates directly as “cheese ice cream,” but you won’t find any cheese into this signature Arequipian dessert. Instead, you’ll taste milk, cinnamon, coconut, and cloves. The name comes from its light yellow hue and the process by which it’s made. The ice cream is a little bit icier than other types of ice cream, leading some people to compare it to frozen rice pudding.


Buñuelos, not picarones
Buñuelos, not picarones

Buñuelos are a cousin to picarones with some key differences. Whereas picarones are made with camote or zapallo (squash or pumpkin), buñuelos are made from wheat flour and are lighter and crispier.


What to Drink

 

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Chicha de Jora is a special drink with a lot of history. It is a corn beer that is slightly fermented. In Arequipa, it has a pale, purple hue. It is a little sweet and has a slightly sour, tart aftertaste. Arequipians claim that chicha de jora has no alcohol, but because it is fermented for 1-2 days, it has a little alcohol, 1-3%. The amount of alcohol varies form place to place and likely varies from batch to batch. Chicha de Jora is different from Chicha Morada, another corn drink with a similiar name. Chicha Morada is sweeter, has fruity notes, and is not fermented. 
Every picantería has its own homebrew Chicha de Jora
Every picantería has its own homebrew Chicha de Jora

Chicha de jora plays a large role in Arequipian culture because picanterías had their start as chicherias, gathering spots where locals get together to drink chicha de jora. Then, food started be served and little by little chicherias evolved into picanterías, eateries with an extensive repertoire of dishes. 

Chicha de jora is home-brewed in many picanterías and also served on the street during festivals. Sometimes it is even handed out for free during celebrations. Take caution when sampling chicha de jora, especially when it’s served outside of a restaurant. Sometimes, it can be quite potent and may lead to stomaches if you’re not used to it. 

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Kola Escocesa is a Arequipan soft-drink. The name translates to “Scottish cola.” The brown soda resembles Coca-Cola but comes with its own distinctive red label featuring a crown. It has a surprisingly fruity taste and is less sweet than Inka Kola, the other famous Peruvian soda. Arequipa also has its own ginger ale, “Arequipa Dry” which makes for good Chilcanos.

After a larger meal, take a shot and declare, "Para bajar!"
After a larger meal, take a shot and declare, “Para bajar!”
Anis liqueur is a favorite digestif among local.  It is smooth and has licorice flavor. People drink it after a heavy meal “para bajar,” to help with digestion. You can also find anis in coffee drinks.

Where to Eat

You won’t have to go far from tourist attractions to find good food in Arequipa. I purposely picked restaurants that are located in the city center, Yanahuara, and Cayma.

Picanterías

Picanterías are the bastions of Arequipa’s culinary tradition and are the best place to start to know Arequipa’s food scenes. Unfortunately, most of the as Arequipa has grown, most of picanterías in the city center have closed or moved to the outskirts of the city. However, there are a number of highly accessible picanterías that are close to attractions like the the Mirador de Yanahuara.
Picantero at La Dorita
Picantero at La Dorita
Picanterías evolved from small, neighborhood watering holes serving chicha de jora, a slightly fermented beer made from corn. The name, “picantería” comes from the “picante” (spicy) food that was served to stimulate thirst of patrons. Picantería fare tend to be hearty, centering around meat, potatoes, and ají (Peruvian pepper). The best picanterías make all of their dishes freshly every day. The dishes all come a common core repertoire of traditional dishes, but the menu varies from day to day and each picantería have their own recipes that have been passed from generation to generation.
The cafeteria style of cooking large quantities of dishes allows many people to be served efficiently. I also found through my interviews that people sharing the eating from a common set of dishes can help bring people together.
At the heart of traditional picantería cooking is the use of wood stoves which imparts a special aroma and flavor on the food. The smoke gives the soups and other dishes cooked on the wood fire stoves a smoky flavor and additional depth.
Traditional food cooked over wooden fires
Traditional food cooked over wooden fires
Many picanterías like Sol De Mayo and Tradicion Arequipeña have evolved grown into “touristic restaurants”. Despite the name, most of these restaurants still serve a mostly local crowd, but the secret’s out and you will find groups of visitors on a regular basis as well. These restaurants often feature a large courtyard and garden seating as well as à la carte options.

You can't ask for a more beautiful spot for sampling local food
You can’t ask for a more beautiful spot for sampling local food
La Benita de Los Claustros (General Móran 118) was recently opened by Roger Falcón and his mother who is responsible for La Benita de Charcato, one of the most famous picanterías in the city, as a way to  push the picantería tradition forward while making it accessible to a larger audience.
 La Benita de Claustros is currently the only picantería in the historic center. Nestled among the cloisters of a 16th century church and less than a block from Plaza de Armas,  La Benita de Los Claustros provides a gentle introduction to Arequipa’s rich and storied food traditions. Whereas traditional picanterías usually open only for lunch, La Benita caters to visitors and opens for lunch and dinner.
Recommendations: Triple Picantero, juices

The open kitchen at La Capitana
The open kitchen at La Capitana
La Capitana (Calle Los Arces 209) is a local favorite steeped in history and tradition. It is one of the best places in the city to see Arequipa’s traditions. One of the longstanding traditions of picantería is the concept of communal tables. This tradition remains strong at La Capitana which has long tables and benches made for sharing. Oftentimes, especially midday, you’ll see workers, families, and blue collar laborers sharing a table and conversation.

La Capitana, a favorite of many locals
La Capitana, a favorite of many locals
In addition to Arequipa’s tradition, La Capitana has many traditions of its own. The most obvious being the writing on the walls and greetings from many different languages scribbled on the wall, showing La Capitana’s reach and long history.
Pro Tip: It can be intimidating to eat somewhere with so many traditions and customs, but the staff at La Capitana are happy to give visitors a tour of the kitchen and menu before ordering.
Recommendations: Costillar, Chupe de Camarones, Pastel de Tallarin

La Dorita is a perfect example of a local, neighborhood picantería
La Dorita is a perfect example of a local, neighborhood picantería
La Dorita (Cuesta del Ángel 405) is only a few blocks from Portal de Yanuhuara. It a simple atmosphere that caters towards towards locals and offers an authentic look into traditional food. The americano is a great way to try all of the daily offerings. The almuerzo lets you pick a soup, a main, and a drink (normally chicha morada).
Recommendations: Cuy Chactado, Chicharrón

The Picantero platters at La Nueva Palomino are meant for sharing
The Picantero platters at La Nueva Palomino are meant for sharing
Nueva Palomino (Leoncio Prado 122) is located in Yanuhuara and is popular with both Peruvian and non-Peruvian tourists. Their menu is well-organized and is a good introduction to Picanteria food. Their ‘Picantero’ platters give you a good sampling of Picanteria favorites and are great for sharing. My friends and I shared an Especial Picantero which contain rocoto relleno, pastel de papa, beef estofado, soltero, chicharrón, and a casserole of choclo and cheese. This and a chupe de camarones  (which was disappointing the day we went) was enough to feed four of us.
At lunch time, Nueva Palomino almost always has a line snaking out of the door. Also, many dishes sell out so it’s best to go early.

Recommendation: Especial Picantero Platter


Sol de Mayo, an Arequipean institution
Sol de Mayo, an Arequipean institution
Sol de Mayo is an award-winning restaurant with over a hundred years of history. Many foreign dignitaries have passed through its door. Sol de Mayo grew out of a picantería and now features an expansive, beautiful courtyard where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch. Their menu decadent versions of traditional food using the highest quality ingredients. After trying several version of Chupe de Camarones, the one at Sol de Mayo was my favorite.
Recommendations: Chupe de Camarones, Causa, Queso Helado

Large portions and great service at Tradición Arequipeña
Large portions and great service at Tradición Arequipeña
Tradición Arequipeña (Jerusalén 203) offers modern versions of traditional, picantería food in large portions. I took my leftovers home, and it took me three meals to finish the Triple I ordered.  Their menu has a lot of nice, large pictures and is visitor-friendly. It is also frequented by tourists and locals alike. The dishes are cooked using traditional techniques but use the best ingredients. I was especially happy that my meal included fresh vegetables in addition to what traditionally is included.
Recommendation: Doble

Estofado at Cau Cau II
Estofado at Cau Cau II
Cau Cau (Tronchadero 404) has multiple locations and offers authentic, picantería food at low prices. The one at features a nice garden and small open kitchen where you can watch the food being prepared, keeping in mind that a lot of picantería food is prepared ahead of time in large batches.
Recommendation: Estofado

A trip to the countryside along with a picantería visit makes for a good outing
A trip to the countryside along with a picantería visit makes for a good outing
Picantería in the campiña (outskirts): There was a time when picanterías in the outskirts of the city would feature chickens running around, fitting a quaint view of what things used to be like, but nowadays even the picanterías in the outskirts have modernized. They still offer a pastoral setting and a slightly more open setting. The picanterías in the outskirts are not so different that they are worth an excursion out to the countryside just for lunch, but they make an excellent stop during a trip to the Molino or other attractions in the outskirts of Arequipa.
Two popular picanterías further afield include: La Benita de Chactado and Picanteria Nieves.

Adobo 

Adobo is served throughout the city on Sunday. The most famous neighborhood for adobo is Cayma where there are several places serving adobo around the main plaza starting at 6 am on Sunday.
Sunday Adobo can be enjoyed any day El Super Adobo Arequipeño
Sunday Adobo can be enjoyed any day at El Super Adobo Arequipeño
Another option is Super Adobo Arequipeño (Alfonso Ugarte 214) located in Yanahuara. It is one of the few restaurants that serve adobo every day.

Unique Restaurants

Chicha's Rocoto Relleno
Chicha’s Rocoto Relleno
Chicha (Santa Catalina 210) in Arequipa is one of Gaston’s restaurants bearing this name with the other one being in Cusco. The restaurant offers a menu of refined version of Peruvian staples with elements of fusions such as cuy cooked in the style of a Chinese Peking duck and ravioli.

In additional to the core menu, each location offers refined versions of regional favorites, incorporating premium ingredients and presenting dishes with a modern twist.

Recommendation: Any dish with Camarones, Cuy Chactado


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Zig Zag (Calle Zela 210) is a touristic restaurant that features Alpandina cusine, a more specialized version of novoandian cuisine that merges ancient and modern techniques from the Alps and Andes. Zig Zag is known for its combination of meat and seafood that is cooked on a slab of volcanic rock. Fun fact: if you look closely, you can see that volcanic stone was used for the construction of buildings throughout the city. The cuisine is not deeply Peruvian or Arequipian but gives visitors a fun way to try exotic meats such as alpaca and paiche, a fish from the Amazon.
The restaurant features an iconic iron staircase designed by Gustave Eiffel, and the upstairs tables near the window offers a beautiful view of San Francisco Plaza. Zig Zag is one of the most popular restaurants in town with tourists and locals celebrating special occasions so a reservation is recommended.
Recommendation: Sizzling volcanic platters

Rocoto relleno on top of Andean potatoes
Rocoto relleno on top of Andean potatoes
Hatunpa (Ugarte 208) means “big potato” in Quechua. This cozy, nicely-decorated restaurant focuses on introducing people to the some of many, different varieties of potatoes that Peru has to offer. They offer Peruvian classics such as Lomo Saltado and Ají de Gallina on top of a bed of different varieties of potatoes. You can taste the topping with several  different types of potatoes, appreciating the nuance of each type of potato. The dishes are hearty and filling, making it one of the best deals in the city.
Recommendation: Try your favorite Peruvian dish on top of Hatunpa’s seasonal selection of potatoes

Lomo and Pasta in Huancaína Sauce
Lomo and Pasta in Huancaína Sauce
El Corte Azul (Misti 403, Arequipa) features grilled meat and Italian-Peruvian fusion dishes. The meat is extremely high-quality and may be the best that I’ve had throughout my travels in Peru.
Recommendations: Lomo and Pasta in Huancaína Sauce

Rocoto Lasagna, a fusion of two of my favorite dishes-Rocoto Relleno and Lasagna
Rocoto Lasagna, a fusion of two of my favorite dishes-Rocoto Relleno and Lasagna
La Italiana (Calle San Francisco 303) is one of several restaurants that combine pasta and pizza dishes with some traditional Arequipean fare. One example of a fusion dish that results is Rocoto lasagna, a cross between rocoto relleno and lasagna, two dishes are just meant to be together. The two dishes both have meat and cheese, and lasagna could use a bit of a kick …
Trattoria del Monasterio and Zingaro also their own versions of Rocoto Lasagna.

Coctel de Camarones
Coctel de Camarones
As its name suggests,  El Camaroncito (San Francisco 303) focuses on camarones, Arequipa’s star ingredient. They offer ceviche and other maritime favorites, but what really sets them apart is their selection of more than a dozen different ways to enjoy camarones. The menu includes coctel de camarones (pictured), rocoto stuffed with camarones, and causa with camarones.

A very expensive causa with camarones
A very expensive causa with camarones
Tio Dario (Callejón del Cabildo 100) is known for their seafood specialities (ceviche, grilled fish, and camarones) and is located conveniently in Yanahuara (one of the closest restaurants to the Mirador). It was my first meal in Arequipa and also probably the most expensive of all of the food I had in Arequipa (relative to the amount of food).

Salamanto's take on Cuy Chactado and Pastel de Papa
Salamanto’s take on Cuy Chactado and Pastel de Papa

Set in a beautiful house, Salamanto (Leon XIII- H11) offers a creative tasting menu using local ingredients and riffs on traditional dishes. Salamanto uses modern techniques such as dehydration and sous vide along with beautiful plating to showcase Arequipa ingredients in a new light. If you’re staying in Arequipa for a few days, I personally recommend making recommendations and making reservations for Salamanto for your last day, after you’ve sampled the traditional version of dishes listed above. Then, you can really appreciate the creativity that goes into the food here.

Salamanto also has one of the best wine lists in town.

Example plate: Solterito is Chef Perea’s interpretation of the classic Arequipa salad, Soltero. It is part of his signature, seven course tasting menu. The quinoa, three types of cheese featured, and artistic plating takes this traditional salad to a whole new level. Each bite is packed with the concentrated flavor of Soltero combined with fresh ingredients.

Chef Perea's version of Soltero, the traditional salad of Arequipa
Chef Perea’s version of Soltero, the traditional salad of Arequipa
Recommendation: Menú Desgustación-7 Pasos (Signature tasting menu with seven sources)

Cafes and Bistro

A welcome salad and quinoa pizza
A welcome salad and quinoa pizza
Qura (Las Orquideas 104) offers healthy cafe food including a selection of salad, quinoa pizza, and juices.

Misti, a coffee drink named after the majestic volcano
Misti, a coffee drink named after the majestic volcano

Cafe Valenzuela (General Móran 114) has gourmet coffee and coffee drinks. I don’t normally like novelty drinks but the Misti, a mocha with anis liquer was good.


Other cafes:

  • La Despensa (Santa Catalina 302) next to Santa Catalina Monastery serves good espresso beverages. 
  • Entre Libros y Café (Calle Jerusalén 307) is a small cafe with a nice space. As it names suggests, there’s lots of books to peruse while you’re enjoying a cup of coffee.
  • Huayruro Peruvian Coffee Shop (Calle Puente Grau 100) serves simple western breakfasts in a space with a bit of a backpacker vibe.
  • Quilla Cafe (Calle Cuesta del Angel 507) is located conveniently next to the Mirador de Yanahuara and serves high-quality, organic coffee. They also sell coffee beans.


Lightning round: Ceviche, Sangucherias, Pollerías, Anticuchos, y Más

Fall-apart chicharron sandwich at Mamut
Fall-apart chicharron sandwich at Mamut
  • Ceviche: El Barco (Urb. Alto de la Luna E 10 iV Etapa) is highly recommended as the best ceviche in the city.  Mares (Ricardo Palma, 111 ) offers ceviche platters as well as  an extensive selection of other Peruvian favorites (you can order off the menu from the adjoining Candela).
  • Sangucheria: La Lucha (Calle mercaderes 116) recently opened in Arequipa but it’s not quite the same quality as the locations in Lima.  Mamut and La Sanguchería de Mercaderes also offer fast-food versions of classic Peruvian sandwiches.
  • Polleria: Pollería Pio Pio was probably the biggest disappointment of my time in Arequipa. The chicken looked good in the roaster, but the chicken was dry and bland. Alternatives include Norky’s (a chain) and El Gordito.
  • The best Chifa in the center is Chifa Al Paso which is tiny but serves quality Chifa.  Qingdao has several location and has good combinations.
  • For a sample of Peruvian favorites, Gaston Acurio’s casual chain, Tanta (210 Int. 105, Calle Santa Catalina), does a good job. El Ekeko (Mercaderes 141) and Capriccio (Mercaderes 123) also offer Peruvian fare along desserts, coffee, and a few alcoholic drinks.
  • My favorite two surprises were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was La Brocheta (Sevilla #119 Cayma) which has excellent meat plates at good prices, and the other was Salamanto (see above).

Snacks and Dessert

The plaza around Mirador de Yanauahra is the perfect place to try queso helado
The plaza around Mirador de Yanauahra is the perfect place to try queso helado

In areas frequented by tourists, Queso Helado is often served from large barrels by women wearing traditional dresses. There are at least four places like this around Mirador de Yanauahra. They offer queso helado in three sizes for 3, 4, and 5 soles.

Upstairs in San Camilo market near the florists, you can find Doña Rosa, the most famous Queso Helado place where people sit down to enjoy the ice cream, and the queso helado is served on a plate. 

You can also find Queso Helado in Artika, a chain found in several locations throughout Arequipa with the most central one located one block from the center (General Móran 120). You can have Queso Helado in a cone, in a sundae, or in a cup.

Queso Helado at Sol de Mayo
Queso Helado at Sol de Mayo

You can also find Queso Helado served in creative ways in high-end restaurants throughout the city such as Sol de Mayo and Salmanto. 


Try eating a Salteña without spilling any of the juices!
Try eating a Salteña without spilling any of the juices!

Salteñas, a Bolivian favorite, similar to empanadas are becoming more and more popular. Be careful! Salteñas are very juicy inside. In fact, it’s a popular game among friends and family members to see who can finish a Salteña without having the juice gush out. Try Salteñas at the place that made them popular in Arequipa, Salteñeria Roma (Álvarez Thomas 519, multiple locations).


A wide variety of picarones by antojitos on display
The many flavors of picarones sold at Antojitos

There’s a ton of picarones at Antojos throughout the touristic areas of the city (multiple locations). They sell them in plastic boxes designed for carrying so they make a great gift.


Beautiful pastry selection at Casta Fior
Beautiful pastry selection at Casta Fior
Casta Fior (Francisco Bolognesi 106) offers a wide selection of beautiful, hand-crafted French pastries. The bakery is actually just one part of Casta Fior’s offering. There’s also a cafe serving some of the best coffee in town, sleek bar, and a restaurant that is known for its brunch as well as fusion options.

Bars

Proud display of Pisco bottles from all over Peru at La Casona del Pisco
Proud display of Pisco bottles from all over Peru at La Casona del Pisco

La Casona Del Pisco (San Francisco 317) recently simplified its menu to focus on classic cocktails like the Pisco Sour and Pisco Punch in order to highlight the Pisco. They truly aim to educate their guests about Pisco. Splashy illustrations showing the composition of Pisco cocktails adorn the wall, and bottles of Pisco are proudly displayed in the bar.

Recommendation: Make friends with the bartender during a quiet time and learn about the many different types of Pisco.


The bar at Chicha combines local ingredients into creative cocktails
The bar at Chicha combines local ingredients into creative cocktails

 For me, the real highlight of Chicha was the bar which offers a stellar creative cocktail menu. The menu has classics like pisco sour but also include signature cocktails that incorporate local ingredients like Arequipian papaya and Huacatay. The cocktails are expertly made with fresh ingredients and an eye for detail.

Recommendation: Papaya sour

Visit Arequipa for the Food

There are many locals that are happy to introduce you to the food in Arequipa
There are many locals that are happy to introduce you to the food in Arequipa
Arequipa’s food is a beautiful mix of tradition and innovation. You can easily spend a few weeks tasting your way through Arequipa’s tradition repertoire. But you can also enjoy Peruvian dishes (you’re still in Peru after all) as well as comfort foods from back home (if you must). Food is a huge part of Arequipa’s culture so learning about the food is probably the best way to learn about the local culture. One thing I really love about Arequipa’s food scene is that the restaurants evolved from tradition and are not just there for tourists.

More About Food in Arequipa


Airbnb

Tom and Pao, wonderful hosts that will introduce you some of the best food in Arequipa
Tom and Pao, wonderful hosts that will introduce you some of the best food in Arequipa

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Arequipa and to get to know the culture, check out Homestay Diaz Cuba. We explored San Camilo Market together, conducted an amazing potato experiment which I’ll post about soon, and chatted for hours about food which helped me greatly improve my Spanish. The best part is that the experience is authentic and customized to your interests. You’ll be like family!

In general, Airbnb is a great way to experience the local culture and find the best places to eat. If you want to try it out, please you my referral page: www.airbnb.com/c/sdee112. We’ll both save money!


Map

 


Acknowledgments

I was absolutely amazed at how knowledgable and generous the picanteros, chefs, bartenders, vendors, and locals in Arequipa were. I walk into a picantería or bar, introduce myself using my limited Spanish, and then walk out with a full belly and head full of new facts and ideas. Arequipa is a wonderful city where everyone takes pride in food and is happy to introduce you to their favorites.

Special thanks to:

  • The Cuba Diaz family for opening their home and culture to me. Paola also helped me meticulously edit this article.
  • Kely Alvarez and her family for welcoming me to Arequipa with a home-cooked meal.
  • Giancarlo Palao for generously helping translate interviews of patrons at La Capitana and fact-checking previous blog posts which became the source for this guide.
  • Sofia Rodriguez for patiently explaining the difference between picarones and buñuelos to me multiples times. Also, thank you for introducing me to Tami and Scott, two amazing eating buddies.
  • Elisa Flórez for introducing me to Picantería food in the countryside
  • Ricardo Santander for first introducing me to picanterías during my first visit to Arequipa
  • Soraya Pastor and Paúl Perea for answering my many questions about the ingredients in Arequipa

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Maria says:

    This Food looks absolutely delish, especially that big pile of shrimp. The Adobo also looks amazing. Man, now I am getting hungry!

  2. We have a few Peruvian restaurants in Boquete, Panama, where I live part time. I love their meats and Pisco Sours. YUM! I have tried a few of the items you have mentioned but most were foreign to me. The guinea pig…never ever. LOL Very informative post and great photos.

  3. This is a wonderful post and everything looks so good. I like to eat my way through a place and now I know what to eat when I go there. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Andi says:

    Where do I sign up??!! This place is foodie heaven and made for me. I would love to spend two weeks there and do nothing but eat! Your post is wonderfully detailed!

  5. Julian says:

    My god, you really ate and drank your way through the entire cuisine! Fantastic! Looks delicious (not everything ;)), thanks for sharing.

  6. This was a wealth of information for me! My husband and I will be visiting Arequipa at the end of April, for our first time. I am so excited!

  7. Bec Honey says:

    What a great and thorough post about Arequipa’s cuisine and Peruvian food overall. I thought I tried a lot of foods in Arequipa! Picantaria Nuestra was excellent, away from the city centre, authentic, no tourists in sight, huge portions.

  8. Kirsty says:

    I love eating at local food markets and if there is a food festival, even better! Great post – very detailed and loved the photos.

  9. Tami says:

    Wow! You include some very detailed descriptions of the food of Arequipa. I can almost taste it from your writing and your photos! I can’t imagine how fun it must be to travel slow enough to sample all the foods of a region. It’s an interesting concept though. When I travel, it’s much more about seeing the sights. I’m forwarding your post to my son who LOVES Peruvian food!

  10. Adriana Smith says:

    It is a sin to show so much good food and not be able to taste!! Love the details of the ingredients and markets!

  11. Wow, now I’m starving, you have made it sound and look so incredibly delicious. I love the idea of the whole town doing the same soup, such a funny idea. I have to go just for the copious amounts of Pisco! Thanks for sharing this awesome post.

  12. Lana says:

    It looks so delicious! I know a few Peruvians, my colleagues from a summer school. They made a Peruvian dinner, so I had opportunity to try some of these dishes 🙂

  13. Ho-ly that was a comprehensive article! We’re spending a month or two in Peru at the end of this year and I think it will be so amazing. I can’t wait to try all the food and see the history.

  14. Katie says:

    Everything looks so tasty! I love that you were originally going to only stay for 4 days but ended up staying for a month. 🙂

  15. Gem says:

    Reading the post and looking at the pictures make my mouth watering!
    Everything looks so good. Some people travel to take cute pictures, I travel to eat delicious authentic food.
    Thanks for sharing that with us 🙂

  16. Erin says:

    Wow! How can you possibly pick your favorite?! I love that Escribano is a dish. Tomatoes are my favorite :p These photos are making my mouth water and they all sound so good.

  17. neha says:

    A very comprehensive food guide I must say. I would love to try the different fruits and vegetarian delicacies. Thanks to your post, I will refer back to it when I plan my trip here. But I must say again, there is so much listed out here, I will be tempted to try all of it 🙂

  18. Joanna says:

    You were so lucky to be in Arequipa during a food festival. When I visited I only got to see a book fair (wished it was a food one instead). The food you’ve wrote about here made me so hungry! You have made a proper complete food guide for the city!

  19. I love to take some food experiences when I travel, I think it is one of the best way to ge to know the local culture. South America has alooot of different kind of food and different spices as well, it is great!

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